Original Review by Alan RogersMea Maxima Culpa

Primetime Emmy Award-winning documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God is a 2012 documentary focusing the sexual abuse of boys by Roman Catholic priests at a Wisconsin boarding school for the deaf up to the mid-1970s. It documents the abuses suffered and the Vatican-sanctioned concealment that followed. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney’s strong film also touches on how widespread the cover-up reached (e.g., similar cases from Ireland and Italy are also highlighted). Having previously worked on the 2007 documentary Taxi To The Dark Place, Gibney returns to the composing partnership of Ivor Guest and Robert Logan who give Mea Maxima Culpa an effective score that reflects the ruined innocence of those abused and the all-powerful “system” whose main aim was self-protection. There are three main ideas featured on the album, and which appear throughout the score, that highlight various aspects of the story. “Credits”, with an innocent and somewhat simple theme heard on solo piano and solo child’s voice, opens the album and accompanies “homemade” film footage of some of the children at the centre of the scandal: innocent souls supposedly in a place of protection. Although innocent in tone, Guest and Logan are able to give a hint of the horrors the children are going to experience:  cello (played by composer and cellist Philip Sheppard) seems to emphasise that all is not right with the images seen. Although rarely heard in the film, this thematic material surfaces a number of key times, usually when something positive occurs for those most affected: for example, when we see, after many years of struggle, a group of the boys – now men – taking strength from a gathering of others who have also experienced abuse at the hands of the church (“Credits”), or when one of the abused boys is able to tell his wife of his experience a number of years later.

The third track, “Main Theme”, is a dark and understated second theme and it is a powerful presence in the score and film. Upon first listening, I expected this track to be an extended statement of the music heard in the opening credits (“Credits”). However it was not and, although seemingly related to the innocent theme heard in “Credits” (cello and solo voice dominating), this second theme is clearly much darker. The inclusion of an ostinato pattern in plucked strings adds a relentless quality that hints at the church’s power to conceal. Usually heard when Gibney’s film recounts the darker side of the church – with its examples of the mechanisms of denial and cover-up by which the church looks after its own interests – the “Main Theme” echoes the main subject matter of the film itself. A third musical idea is represented by a number of non-thematic tracks (e.g., “Pre-credits”, “Horror 1”, “Horror 2”) and are heard whenever we see dramatic reconstructions of the events leading up to the abuses or when we see actual footage of the boys – now adults – confronting their abuser. These tracks feature washes of low synth tones embellished with wordless vocals or church organ and are powerful accompaniments to the horrors hinted at on the screen. One particularly effective example is heard in “Pre-credits”. Although “Credits” opens the album, the ominous soundscapes of “Pre-credits” plays under the opening of the film, where we see a summary of the film’s subject (as a series of static cards) as well as excerpts from a letter sent by one of the abused to a high-placed member of the church; a letter which will begin the whole process of exposing the institutional abuse.

A final musical idea – an energetic guitar (acoustic and electric) motif – is taken up whenever there’s a hint of interest taken by the authorities into investigating the cases of abuse. Although sometimes not successful, the composers’ motif clearly reflects the glimmers of hope any potential investigation offered to those who at the centre of the scandal. A couple of previously written pieces (Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” and “Lacrimosa Dies Illa” from Mozart’s Requiem) finish off the film’s music soundtrack, though neither features on the released album.

Guest and Logan’s score for Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God is very effective within the context of the film. The moments of innocence and hope, as well as the reflection of the power and darker aspects of the Vatican, are clearly reflected in the music without being overbearing and it deserves its Emmy Award nomination for “Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special” in 2012/2013. As a listening experience, the music is varied, beautifully rendered and does benefit from its short running time (only 20 minutes). Much of the music featured on the album can be heard in several places through the film. More music seems to have been written for and featured in the film itself (some of it containing musical ideas that didn’t make it to the album). One criticism would be that it would have been nice to have had some of this additional music featured on the album, especially since the running time is so short. Ivor Guest and Robert Logan’s music for Mea Maxima Culpa is well worth seeking out and it’s available to buy at the usual online digital stores and is available to stream on services such as Spotify. Audio clips are available HERE.

Rating: ***

  1. Credits (2:03)
  2. Pre-Credits (1:40)
  3. Main Theme (3:25)
  4. Horror 1 (1:56)
  5. Pope Power (2:11)
  6. Detective (1:38)
  7. Horror 2 (1:56)
  8. Confessional (2:48)
  9. Ireland (1:40)
  10. Breakdown (2:16)

Running Time: 21:37

Footnote/Slowfoot Records (2015)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: